Breaking Down the First Round
By: Steve Brodzinski – Pittsburgh Basketball Report
The first round of the Class AAAA playoffs are in the books, and while both a #12 and #13 seed moved on to the second round, there were no real “upsets”. Teams have taken care of business, as eight teams have advanced to the quarterfinal round. Let’s take a look at how things have panned out so far.
#1 New Castle vs. #16 Latrobe
The Twittersphere was blowing up as Latrobe jumped out early on New Castle, with murmurs of a March Madness like 16 seed upsetting a 1 seed. Latrobe led 20-18 after one quarter, and only trailed by 2 points at the half. Yet, when you remember New Castle has three senior guards in Malik Hooker, Anthony Richards, and Drew Allen, that haven’t lost a game in the WPIAL in nearly 3 years, you take a step back and wait for the final score that would probably have New Castle winning by 20. And on cue, the final was 85-66 New Castle, after a huge third quarter that blew the game open. Malik Hooker finished with 31 points, and Anthony Richards had 11 points and 9 assists. Latrobe shows promise for the future, as they were led by junior guard Matt Cullens’ 16 points and sophomore guard Sean Graytocks’ 15 points.
#8 Fox Chapel vs. #9 Bethel Park
It was just the type of game that Bethel Park wished for: a physical, grind-it-out, refs-letting-them-play type of game. Yet, even with a sloppy overall performance early on, Fox Chapel battled back to take the lead late in the fourth quarter. It was a huge defensive play by Bethel’s Levi Metheny, and a big time three by Josh Krafczynski that led to Bethel Park’s hand being raised in the end. Up by one point with about one minute remaining, Fox Chapel’s Matt D’Amico was stripped of the ball by Metheny, and Bethel recovered. Without calling a timeout, Krafczynski spotted up in the right corner, received the pass, and knocked down the biggest of his 6 three pointers on this day, and maybe of his career. Fox Chapel missed its opportunity on the other end, Bethel rebounded, and that was the game. Krafczynski led Bethel with 20 points, and junior guard Joey Mascaro scored 11 while really controlling the game for the Hawks. Brian Papich led Fox Chapel with 16 points, but the story was the struggle of senior star Matt D’Amico and junior guard Billy Urso. On the season Papich, Urso, and D’Amico averaged nearly 52 points per game – in this one they scored only 31 – about 20 points off their average.
#4 Plum vs. #13 Kiski Area
Plum came in with the #4 seed after finishing atop a very close and competitive section 2. Kiski Area, who finished second in section 1, with a 10-2 record, got snubbed with a #13 seed, and we assumed they would play with a bit of a chip on their shoulder. This is exactly what happened as Kiski Area kept the game close for three quarters, and then knocked down 16 free throws in the fourth quarter. Many of those free throws came in the final minute, when a 2 point game turned quickly into a 50-40 victory for Kiski Area. A lack of composure that involved four fouls, including two technical, buried Plum, and vaulted #13 seeded Kiski Area to the Quarterfinal round. Kiski Area was led by junior stand-out Mike Simmons’ 17 points. Plum senior star Austin Dedert was held under double figures after averaging 15ppg on the season.
#5 USC vs. #12 Gateway
Gateway beat Upper St. Clair big 68-50, but this was no upset. Upper St. Clair took the #5 seed after winning section 4, and Gateway was the #12 seed after coming in fourth in section 2 with a 9-5 record. However, Gateway spent the month of January dealing with a banged up and injured team, that included senior point guard Shomari Thomas missing multiple games with a concussion. A healthy Gateway team is as good as any in Class AAAA, and would have dominated section 4 on most nights. When you look at their roster with players like 6’5” senior Tom Kromka, 6’5” junior Daylon Harris, 6’5” sophomore Aiden Howard, senior point guard Shomari Thomas, and senior football standouts Delvon Randall and Montae Nicholson, the Gators have experience, size, and athleticism. Unfortunately for USC, they faced a refreshed and healthy Gateway squad. Delvon Randall led Gateway with 21 points. Upper St Clair’s sophomore Andrew Wheeler had 12 points, and seniors Connor Gallahger and JJ Conn with 11 points each.
#2 Hampton vs. #15 Peters Twp
Hampton made quick work of a very young Peters Township squad, holding them to only 11 points in the first half, and 26 for the game. University of Pittsburgh recruit Ryan Luther scored 27 points for Hampton, with his individual scoring performance topping Peters’ total. Hampton shot 46 percent from the field as a team, and won the game 61-26. Peters Township’s leading scorer had 6 points.
#7 Franklin Regional vs. #10 Seneca Valley
This game could have gone either way, but #7 seed Franklin Regional pulled away with a 70-59 win over #10 seed Seneca Valley. While SV got 13 points from senior guard Matt Darby and 18 points from junior Zach Snyder, it was not enough against the experience of the second place team from section 2. Led by senior guards Matt Renzi (15), Devin Arrigo (13), Charan Singh (11), and junior guard Matt Fisch (18), Franklin Regional’s balanced scoring attack was too much for Seneca Valley.
#3 North Allegheny vs. #14 Norwin
I knew NA was good, but I did not expect them to put a 30 point beating on a Norwin team led by two top Quad A guards in senior Zach Bryan and junior Curtis Perz. While North Allegheny struggled with their shooting in the first half, their defense held Norwin to 13 points. In the second half, NA shot 50% from the field, and turned a 10 point half-time lead into a 63-33 final score. They did all of this while missing their leading scorer Cole Constantino with an injury. North Allegheny was led by junior guard Mike Fischer’s 14 points and got 12 points from Luke Gwaltney. Norwin’s leading scorer Curtis Perz (15.6ppg) was held to just 6 points.
#6 Hempfield vs. #11 Mt. Lebanon
Many thought that Hempfield should have been seeded higher. Maybe a #4 seed, or at least a #5 seed? But the Spartans received a #6 seed after winning section 1 with a 12-0 record, and finishing the season 21-2 overall. They were matched up with #11 seed Mt. Lebanon who finished third in section 4, which was admittedly weak this year. Hempfield wanted to make a statement, and they did throughout, as they led by 22 points at halftime, and won the game by 18 points, 74-56. They were led with 19 points from Logan Hunter, 17 points from Tony Pilato, and 16 points from Kason Harrell. Mt. Lebanon was led by junior guard Johnny David’s 31 points. Mt. Lebanon showed promise by making the playoffs this season with a very young team, and will return David and 6’7” junior Patrick Ehland. In hindsight, the #6 seed could have actually helped Hempfield , who avoided a healthy Gateway squad in the first round.
Quarterfinal Games (All Games Saturday 2/22)
#1 New Castle vs. #9 Bethel Park – 3:00pm @Ambridge
#2 Hampton vs. #7 Franklin Regional – 1:00pm @Penn Hills
#3 North Allegheny vs. #6 Hempfield – 2:30pm @Penn Hills
#12 Gateway vs. #13 Kiski Area – 2:30pm @Plum